added 7/4/2007 by Bob Hulsey
Making the 3,000-hit club was an important milestone in Craig Biggio's career and should end any lingering talk of whether he should make the Hall of Fame; yet there are still pockets of the media and the blogosphere that believe he is not qualified.
Before we even discuss Biggio's merits as a fan favorite and a positive ambassador for the game, let's just let the numbers speak for themselves. Even while factoring in a possible slowdown in what could be the last months of his 20-year career, Biggio will likely reach these rankings by the time October arrives:
(Stats current as of July 3rd, 2007 - all courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)
If a personality-deprived android put up these stats, you'd still have to conclude he was one of the all-time bests. That it's done by someone with class and hustle says even more. When thousands in the past 130 years have played Major League Baseball, to be in the top 50 on so many lists is a remarkable achievement.
At this point, we aren't just talking solely among second basemen or even infielders. We're talking about all baseball players - from slugging first basemen to fleet outfielders who don't face the rigors of being a middle infielder. In most rankings of players who spent the majority of their careers at second base, Biggio ranks in the top five.
Add to that resume four Gold Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards and seven All-Star appearances. Toss in his charity work, his leadership, his willingness to take less money to stay with the same organization for 20 years and his desire to always be a positive influence on the sport he represents and there's little room to argue against his induction in Cooperstown.
How many other superstar athletes can you name who have not even a hint of scandal attached to them? No whispers of abusing performance-enhancing drugs? No paternity suits? No stints in drug or alcohol rehab? No run-ins with law enforcement?
No wonder ESPN still can't pronounce his name right. Biggio (pronounced "BIDGE-ee-oh" for those of you in Bristol, CT) stays out of the headlines except for his on-field exploits. His one recent run-in, if you want to call it that, was for wearing the Sunshine Kids pin on his cap during Spring Training games! No baseball writer will need to hold his nose when putting Biggio's name on their ballot.
Still, some naysayers persist that Biggio shouldn't see Cooperstown without a ticket. Some of their arguments lapse into absurdity. Let's examine:
"He never won an MVP."
True, but the MVP award usually tilts toward power hitters. Among the 3,000-hit club, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Al Kaline never won an MVP but they are all inducted - most on the first ballot.
"He was never the best player at his position during his era."
That's debatable. But even if you want to accept the premise, do you want to say Ken Griffey Jr. is not a Hall-of-Famer because his numbers don't match up to Barry Bonds? Do you want to say either Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle shouldn't be in the Hall because the other was greater? Should we disqualify Joe DiMaggio because of Ted Williams? If you want to try to argue that Biggio was not as good as Ryne Sandberg or Robbie Alomar or even Jeff Kent, be my guest. But even if they were, they weren't by very much and it should do nothing to disqualify Biggio's credentials.
"He wasn't even the best player on his own team."
Oh, brother. Do you punish Derek Jeter for being a teammate of Alex Rodriguez? Do you nullify Tom Glavine's candidacy because he pitched with Greg Maddux? Should Willie McCovey not count because he wasn't better than Mays? Why minimize Biggio's exploits because he played alongside Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman?
"He never hit well in the postseason."
Some of baseball's greats had the same problem. Ted Williams' post-season batting average was .200. Rod Carew hit .220. Jackie Robinson hit .234. So Biggio is in some good company with a postseason average of .234 and two homers.
It really isn't surprising that some players do worse in the postseason than in the regular season. It's presumed you are facing better pitching. Given that his first four postseasons were a steady diet of Maddux, Glavine, John Smoltz and Kevin Brown, Biggio's underachieving is understandable.
"He's a product of longevity, not greatness."
You could try the same argument about Don Sutton and the Hall. It will get you just about as far.
If 3,000 hits is so easy, why have only 27 players done it in more than 100 years? And, other than for Jeter and Rodriguez, many don't anticipate the club getting much bigger anytime soon unlike the 500-homer club which is presently more exclusive (21 members) but soon won't be.
"He's just been an average player the past five years."
Oh, please. So, by that standard, I guess Griffey or McCovey wouldn't make your Hall. Go look up the last few years of Mays' or Mantle's career sometime. Or Honus Wagner. If anything, Biggio bounced back after a dropoff in 2002 to make his push for the milestone. He adapted to his new ballpark and developed a home run stroke he didn't have during his years in the Astrodome, setting a career high for homers in 2004 (24) then topping it the following year (26) at age 39.
"He was very good but never great."
This is a favorite debating answer in Hall of Fame discussions because you can always move the goalposts to get your desired result. I, personally, don't think Bert Blyleven should make the Hall. I've had more than one heated argument from the SABR crowd telling me I'm nuts. Conversely, most disagree with my contention that Andre Dawson deserves induction. They'll trot out some newfangled math to "prove" I'm wrong.
These, and players like Jim Rice and Jack Morris, are simply borderline candidates. Some will think they should be inducted and others won't and both make some good points. For those cases, hitting a milestone such as 3,000 hits or 500 homers is enough to push a player off the borderline in the minds of less-discerning baseball writers.
I think that's what 3,000 hits ultimately has done for Craig Biggio. It gives him the one stat that lends credibility to the rest of his accomplishments, even though it really shouldn't be necessary. Astro fans need no convincing but, apparently, some national media and fans still have to be educated about what Craig Biggio has done for the game. Since grit, heart and leadership aren't found in box scores, 3,000 hits will have to suffice as his legacy.